January 20, 2007

Gay Lutheran Pastor Goes On Trial

Filed under: Random Stuff — Bob Gifford @ 4:22 pm

Update: Day-by-day updates are available here, although since it’s a closed hearing, there’s not much hard news — still, it’s uplifting to hear of the events from the point of view of the defense team.

Update II: The hearing ended on Tuesday Jan. 23rd, and a decision must be issued before Feb. 7th. Details here.

I’m afraid the ELCA, which, as is typical for us Lutherans, has tried to keep everyone happy with the whole gay clergy issue, has stepped right into the middle of it. The Bishop of the ELCA’s Southeastern Synod, Bishop Warren, has elected to conduct a disciplinary hearing to remove Pastor Bradley Schmeling of St. John’s Lutheran Church in Atlanta. In spite of the current ELCA rules requiring celibacy for gay pastors (which the last Churchwide Assembly regrettably voted to keep in place), the Bishop has a great deal of latitude in how to deal with partnered gay clergy. Unfortunately, he has decided on a disciplinary hearing.

From the Washington Post, we hear how the St. John’s congregation prepared for this hearing by performing an act of sublime servanthood and humility first modeled by our Lord:

Members of the oldest Lutheran congregation in Atlanta washed their pastor’s feet — and he washed theirs — in a gesture of mutual support as he prepared to go before a tribunal that may defrock him for living with another man.

The Atlanta Constitution has a moving story about a life-long Lutheran who went from staunchly opposing Pastor Schmeling when he was first called, to donating money for his defense in his hearing:

James Mayer is a 70-year-old truck driver from South Carolina who calls himself a “tough Lutheran.”

But when he talks about what’s happened to him during the past six years, his eyes well up. He swallows hard and sighs. Then the tears come.


“My mother preached the Bible; Daddy lived the Bible,” he says. “If I said I needed help, he was there. The words ‘I love you” weren’t part of his vocabulary. It was just something I knew.”

Mayer says he saw the same quality in Schmeling. He somehow made people know that he cared for them. He made time to help. Made time to meet complete strangers. Made time to make everyone welcome.

By the time Mayer learned that Schmeling had a partner, he says it was “irrelevant” to him.

“I wasn’t surprised,” he says. “If you find someone like Pastor Brad that everyone likes, you know that he was going to run into someone who was gay and who felt the same way the rest of us do.”

St. John’s is conducting services and prayers around the clock during the trial. Meanwhile, Bishop Warren has tried to keep the whole hearing completely under wraps. According to one of Pastor Schmeling’s advisors, the Bishop has closed the hearing and tried to get Schmeling to agree to media silence. Schmeling has refused.

This is not a situation forced on Bishop Warren by church rules, or by anyone outside his Synod. Now perhaps Bishop Warren felt he had to pursue this course of action to keep the other ELCA churches in his synod happy — after all, this is the deep south we’re talking about. But regardless, he is at risk of losing one of the few growing congregations in the ELCA, since St. John’s has said they’d rather leave the ELCA than lose their pastor. How many churches would say the same thing about their pastors, gay or straight? Again, from the Washington Post:

“Everybody in the congregation feels Bradley was really called to us, and nothing has changed about that. Regardless of what happens, I don’t see our position that he’s our pastor changing,” Ballew said.

Asked whether parishioners would rather keep Schmeling or remain in the ELCA, Ballew momentarily fell silent.

“We have long ties to the Lutheran Church; we would never leave voluntarily. I don’t see that changing either, not from our standpoint,” he said. “But I can’t really speculate on what the bishop would do.”

There’s something wrong when a denomination forces a thriving congregation to choose between their pastor, whom they believe has been called by God to serve them, or staying in the denomination.

Please pray for Pastor Schmeling and St. John’s. And for Biship Warren.


  1. It breaks my heart to learn this bishop has chosen this course of action. They are all in my prayers.

    Comment by Becky — January 20, 2007 @ 8:23 pm

  2. May peace be upon Pastor Schmeling and those who have come to love and trust him during this difficult time.

    Comment by Jarred — January 21, 2007 @ 8:48 am

  3. […] The panel has delivered its decision on the disciplinary hearing for Rev. Bradley Schmeling, pastor of St. John’s Lutheran Church in Atlanta (details on the hearing here; more details on the hearing and the decision here). The hearing was conducted to decide whether Pastor Schmeling, who is in a committed same-sex relationship, should be removed from the roster of ELCA clergy. Schmeling’s church was unanimously supportive of him, and made it clear that, if forced to choose between their pastor and the ELCA, they would stick with their pastor. […]

    Pingback by I am a Christian Too » Decision On Pastor Schmeling Hearing — February 8, 2007 @ 6:04 pm

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